In October every year, I begin receiving a plethora of catalogues in the mail. Christmas is approaching and the gift purchasing season has arrived! Because I once ordered a throw pillow embroidered with some cute saying, now I receive twenty different gift catalogues every week. These are the catalogues with funny t-shirts, coffee mugs, front door mats, candles, jewelry, and the like.
These catalogues drive me a little crazy, but I do like to look through them. This year, I discovered something interesting. I discovered that there is a saying that seems to catch hold of the market—a different saying every year. There are funny sayings like, I love cooking with wine; sometimes I even put it in the food or Jesus loves you but I’m his favorite or I’m so busy I don’t know if I found a rope or lost a horse! They do make me chuckle. There was one by Einstein this year, If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called Research. Now that one made me smile!
And then there are the sayings that tend more toward the sentimental and the profound. We may not have it all together; but together we have it all or Never, never, never give up or Sisters are forever friends. This past year, I noticed a new saying popping up in all the catalogues, available on a plaque, bracelet, throw pillow, or, as you can see, a coffee mug! It really caught my attention because I had been thinking a lot about the wisdom that it captures so succinctly.
It is what it is. This saying reflects one of the central tasks of life: to accept reality as it is. In getting to know the intricate inner workings of the minds of many people, I have observed that this task is much harder than it may seem at first blush. We human beings have tremendous resistance toward facing life on life’s terms. It’s like psychic gravity pulls us toward dreaming about what life could be or holding grudges because we believe that life is not as it should be. We don’t want to take it as it comes. We tend to envy other people and compare ourselves to them. But the comparison is usually a false one. The grass is always greener in someone else’s yard because we compare the worst of what we have with the best of what our neighbors have.
I think this mindset is very seductive and proves to be a fundamental obstacle in our efforts to change and grow ourselves. This is true for two reasons, one practical and the other deeply emotional.
The practical challenge for every one of us is to look at our lives and say to ourselves, “It is what it is. This is my personality. This is my raw material. This is the life I’ve been given—the intellect, the body, the particular sensitivities, the strengths and weaknesses, the parents, the siblings, the children, the culture, the upbringing. This is my history—what I have been given and what I have done with it. I can wish for a different life, but I cannot have it. This is it.” I call this practical because if we can accept our lives as they are, we can work with what we’ve got. If we can’t, then we have nothing to work with at all. We’re just chasing the wind.
The deeply emotional challenge for every one of us is to love the lives we’ve been given. This is difficult for us to do, too, but it is of the utmost importance. When we do not accept the reality of our lives, we are motivated by hatred. That is a strong way to put it, I know, but think about it. If we look at our lives and say, “I don’t want it. It’s no good. It’s not enough.” then we are rejecting it in hatred. Life is a gift and we say, “Take it back. I want something better.” Self-hatred and rejection are utterly toxic to mental health and peace of mind. This is why I think of acceptance as a loving act toward ourselves and toward life itself. We say, “I embrace it. I will love it. I will tend to it. I will build on it.” This state of mind leads to inner harmony, which is of value beyond measure.
We often resist this process because, at some level, accepting reality feels a lot like giving up. There is some truth to that feeling. Acceptance is a kind of resignation. A kind of surrender. But it is the good kind, the kind that can lead to change and growth. What we give up is the ideal. We give up a fantasy. We let go of resentment. We let go of grievances. Perhaps you can see that it is not only loss; it is also gain. In exchange, we get reality. We get ourselves.
If we can do the hard emotional work of taking the good with the bad in life, we get to receive the gift that we have been given. We might even get to enjoy it.
this concept is intriguing- and i agree- necessary, to a certain kind of growth in becoming more fully human. i wonder how this interacts with certain faith forms, particularly Christianity, that seem to encourage a certain amount of self-denial and perhaps self-distaste. to strive seems a major practice in some forms of Christendom- and contentment with reality would equate to an insufficient understanding of Christ’s calling.
this is a line of thinking i thoroughly reject these days, but it is also one that i struggled with for years. i am not trying to be inflammatory, but there is there not a certain insidiousness to clawing at the air, trying to ‘become a better person,’ to “i must become less?”
The way I’m thinking about it is that accepting reality is different than being content with reality. I am viewing acceptance as the necessary first step in an ongoing process of growth.